Williams Lake Art Walk: Art bringing joy and pride to a community

By LeRae Haynes –

Editors Note: The grand opening of the 2017 Artwalk Show and Sale takes place September 8 and runs to September 30. After a summer of disruption due to wildfires, with more than 50 participating merchants, the Williams Lake Artwalk Show and Sale is a great opportunity for the community to explore our downtown and celebrate artists in our community while increasing traffic into participating merchants and businesses.

One of Williams Lake’s best and brightest events will hit the city’s streets on September 8. Art Walk, a unique partnership between artists and merchants, grows and expands every year. It’s a highlight for visitors, residents, and the community as a whole.

Willie Dye of Williams Lake Art Walk and Sale in front of the beautiful mural by Dwayne Davis Arts at the Cariboo Growers Co-op Store in Williams Lake.  Photo: Audrey Dye

Willie Dye of Williams Lake Art Walk and Sale in front of the beautiful mural by Dwayne Davis Arts at the Cariboo Growers Co-op Store in Williams Lake.  Photo: Audrey Dye

Art Walk organizer Willie Dye, beloved local character in his paint-spattered smock, sunglasses, paint palette, and beret, has seen the event double in size in the six years that he’s been at the helm.
A wide range of art, including painting, photography, drawing, videographers, pottery, textiles such as quilting, weaving, and carving, are displayed in local businesses, and people collect a passbook and take a tour. They enter to win a much-anticipated grand prize.

“Accessible art in our community is very important,” said Dye. “A number of years ago, they were having a hearing at City Hall about whether the CRD and City would fund arts. There was a big crowd there.

“I was involved with soccer in those days, and toward the end I asked to speak. I said, ‘Look, I’m sorry; it’s about fairness, too, and if you’re prepared to support somebody to ice skate, you need to support people in the arts, too.’”

He works hard to match up the merchants with the artists. “Sometimes the merchant requests a certain artist, or a certain type of art; space, size and shape is a big thing and an important part of the match,” he explained.

“The businesses definitely benefit—they say it’s a magnet. The public is metal and they are drawn to the magnet. Many long-term relationships develop between merchants and artists, and it’s good for business.”
Businesses owners say people have walked in to see the art, and ended up buying store items and booking appointments—a great connection between the public and the merchants, because of art.

“Art Walk has grown to 63 venues last year—we don’t lose very many from year to year,” said Dye.

“For the artists, it’s a great opportunity to showcase their work, and a sizeable amount of art is sold. And there are no commission fees.

“I hear, ‘I want to do this again next year!’ We get about 80 per cent of our artists back. In Art Walk they don’t have to create to a theme—it’s whatever they want to contribute and they get to display their work however they want.”

Art Walk features artists from Sun Peaks, Merritt, Calgary, Vancouver, Quesnel, Prince George, Kamloops, and throughout the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

To find artists, Dye says sometimes he attends art shows. “It’s lots of word of mouth and artists knowing other artists,” he said, “and sometimes I see artists on Facebook.”

Williams Lake should definitely be proud of ArtWalk, said Dye. “We’re certainly getting well-known for it,” he said.

A well-known figure in a monk’s costume selling fudge at the Medieval Market for many years, Dye is often around town promoting Artwalk. He has organized curling clubs, soccer events, and hockey tournaments. When he was organizing curling, they had the biggest bonspiel Williams Lake every had and when he was organizing soccer, they had the western Canadian championships here. “For me, it’s the event I enjoy,” he said, “and now that’s ArtWalk.”

One of the artists featured in Art Walk 2017 is biologist Michelle Beaudry, who brings a distinct and compelling touch to the Walk, with her pressed seaweed designs.

The designs are delicate and unique, reflecting the beauty and unpredictability of the natural world.

She explained that wrack, the seaweed she uses, is left on the beach by a storm or after a high tide. “This is a different kind of seaweed than you usually see—during storm season you get a lot more variety,” she said.

After suspending the fragile seaweed in water, she carefully places it on her press and dries it for two weeks. She blotches paper with a tea bag, gently positions the dried seaweed, and glosses it.

Beaudry has a Biology degree with honours from the University of Victoria. “I actually took Marine Biology and one weekend a teaching assistant put on a little workshop on how to do this seaweed art,” she added.

“When I first went to school I wanted to see dolphins and whales, and there was one professor who did his PHD on one single type of seaweed. I thought, if he did that there must be something there to see.”

She said there were labs in seaweed, which she found very interesting. “In the ocean, it’s suspended in water and some of them can grow a metre a day. I found them really cool,” she explained.

“Sea lettuce can be one or two cells thick—that makes the prettiest pressing with such intricate detail.”

Beaudry’s work has been displayed at Gecko Tree and the Station House Gallery Christmas market, and was at Body Connection by Joe during Art Walk last year.

“I think it’s so important for a community to have art. It’s a way to be creative, and sometimes you don’t get that in everyday life,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for a community to look one step further, through someone else’s eyes.”

For more information about Art Walk, visit the group on Facebook at Williams Lake Art Walk and Sale, or phone (250) 398-8826.

LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.

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